STEVENSVILLE He served in the U.S. Army with Elvis Presley and Colin Powell. For the past 16 years he's worked for nine of the most powerful people in the United States.
William K. Suter, clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke to about 70 people at the Chesapeake Bay Club Wednesday night at the annual dinner of the Bar Association of Maryland's 2nd Judicial Circuit. The 2nd circuit includes Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's, Caroline and Talbot counties.
Suter was appointed the 19th clerk of the Supreme Court by the justices of the court in 1991. Previously he was a career Army judge advocate and retired as a major general and acting judge advocate of the Army.
A lawyer since 1962, Suter is a scholar, advocate, judge and Vietnam war veteran. "In addition, he's one hell of a nice guy," said Jim Richardson, who introduced Suter.
Suter said the U.S. Supreme Court is an efficient arm of government. Cases are argued from October to April, and the court's decisions are out by the end of June. Suter said the Supreme Court gets requests to hear about 9,000 cases each term, but only agrees to hear about 75 cases.
Typically the court reaches a unanimous decision on about 40 percent of the cases it hears, but the 2006-07 term saw unanimous decisions on about 25 percent of the cases, said Suter.
He said the court usually has 5-4 decisions on about 10 to 15 cases a term, but the 2006-07 term had 24 cases with 5-4 rulings. Justice Anthony Kennedy was on the majority on all 24.
Suter said the Supreme Court generally hears two types of cases: those with 1st, 4th and 5th amendment questions that have never been answered; and cases where federal circuit courts are split.
Suter grew up in Kentucky. He attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas on a basketball scholarship and Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans, La. on an academic scholarship.
During his Army career, Suter served in numerous positions around the world, including appellate judge, deputy staff judge advocate of the 101st Airborne Division, commandant of the Judge Advocate General School and the assistant judge advocate general of the Army.
His military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star and the Parachutist Badge.
Suter served in South Vietnam and Thailand from 1970 to 1972.
Suter has a photograph of himself with Presley, and another photo with Powell. Suter was in the ROTC at Fort Hood, Texas in 1958, when he met Presley, who had basic training at the base. In the 1970s, Suter was a lieutenant colonel in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., where he was staff judge advocate for then Col. Powell.
"I like to tell people they're my two best Army buddies," said Suter.
Suter took the press to task, saying the news media too often explains court cases in terms of "political bashing" or "religion bashing," not as a civil discourse.
Suter criticized people who worry a person's self-esteem will be hurt if he or she loses a game or competition.
"A little hurting of self esteem is not bad," said Suter. "Next time, you'll learn to win the game."
In 2005, Suter was awarded the Earl Kinter Award by the Federal Bar Association, its highest award for service to the legal profession and the nation.